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Notes from Clay Helton media call

During his weekly Sunday night media call, USC head coach Clay Helton provided an update on when injury updates would occur, more praise for the defensive effort against a high-powered Arizona attack and a few examples of players staying ready and taking advantage of when their number is called.

No injury updates on the six players who left the game — Markese Stepp (ankle), Stephen Carr (hamstring), Talanoa Hufanga (shoulder), Drake Jackson (ankle), Malik McClain (shoulder) and Munir McClain (knee) — or the four defensive starters who sat out — Christian Rector (ankle), Olaijah Griffin (back), Greg Johnson (shoulder) and Palaie Gaoteote (ankle).

Helton said they are still awaiting the results of MRIs and he will provide a more complete injury update report following Monday’s practice.

The Trojans are moved up one day this week due to the Friday game, so there will be media access following practice on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Helton again praised the effort and production from the defense against Arizona. He said two things were extremely important. The defense was able to keep the quarterbacks inside the pocket for the most part, and if they escaped, there was enough leverage to force them out of bounds or to throw the ball away. Secondly, the Trojans did a good job on third down against a team that had been terrific in those situations this season. Arizona converted just five of 16 third-downs on Saturday night. Helton said the defense’s prep all week was “phenomenal,” and he could tell by the look in their eyes and their reaction to the first snap of the game that “this could be a great night for these guys.”

Backups played a key role on both sides of the ball for the Trojans, and Helton was happy to see them ready to go when their numbers was called.

“Credit our coaching staff,” Helton said. “This has been an unusual year when the next guy up has really been the next guys up.”

Helton said the coaches went into spring ball talking specifically about getting this kind of production out of backups if they were called upon.

“We went into spring training camp talking about, ‘Let’s lift everybody up,'” Helton said. “‘Let’s progress everybody and make them better players.'”

Helton specifically mentioned Kana’i Mauga again, who finished the game with 13 tackles, one interception, one sack and a forced fumble. But he also said true freshman cornerback Dorian Hewett did a good job as a starter, and true freshman running back Kenan Christon certainly took advantage of his opportunities, with 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns. With Gaoteote suffering from a high ankle sprain, Helton said that Mauga is likely to see his workload remain elevated even if Gaoteote returns.

“When you have a high ankle sprain like EA, it’s hard to come back and get all the snaps, especially against the teams we’re playing,” Helton said of high-play count teams such as Colorado, Oregon and Arizona State. “I would anticipate Kana’i having the opportunity to be productive when EA comes back. We always say put your resume on tape and he produced a great resume last night.”

“Thank goodness you’ve trained that next guy to be ready for that job,” Helton said. ‘When you walk into the game and you have four starters on defense that were not suiting up, then you lose six significant guys, that’s 10 guys automatically. We’ve got to be able to, one, stay productive. In that game, I thought the kids did a great job when their number was called…Credit to them and their position coaches for having them ready.”

As for quarterback Kedon Slovis — who flew well under the radar despite a very productive game, going 19-for-28 with 232 yards and two touchdowns — Helton praised his true freshman quarterback for not making the critical error even in a game where things weren’t going his way early.

“Good quarterbacks fight their way through it,” Helton said. “I thought he was patient.”

Helton did say he spoke with Slovis about occasionally being a little more aggressive with his legs. Helton said there were a few times where Slovis might have been able to break the line of scrimmage, pick up a handful of yards and then slide down, rather than stay in the pocket and take a sack.

Erik McKinney
Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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